Narrative nonfiction

The Mayborn Literary Conference stands out from the usual book fair or seminar for several reasons: First, it's dedicated to narrative non-fiction -- from magazine journalism to full-scale scholarly biographies. It's the kind of nonfiction that has become a huge factor in publishing with memoirs (Infidel, The Year of Magical Thinking) and disaster yarns (The Perfect Storm) and narrative histories (Blood and Thunder). So there's a degree of professional craft and journalistic rigor not found at the usual schmoozefest.

George Getschow, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, cooked up the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference with the University of North Texas journalism program, where he now teaches. To underline the seriousness of the conference, the Mayborn Institute and the UNT Press award a provisional book contract to the manuscript the judges pick from those offered for its workshops. What's more, the narrative articles and essays accepted into the workshops will compete for cash prizes totaling $12,000. The top articles and essays chosen by the jurists will also be published in a literary journal put out by Hearst Newspapers and the Mayborn Institute.

Last year, the Mayborn, which is held in Grapevine, northwest of Dallas, featured Gay Talese -- certainly a master of the nonfiction genre -- and he was impressed enough, he's returning this year, July 27-29, with his wife, Doubleday editor and senior VP Nan Talese. This year will also see Joyce Carol Oates and Mary Roach (Stiff) as speakers. I've covered the Mayborn for three years; this time, I'm scheduled to be on a panel.

You want to learn more -- go to the jump. Or follow the link above.

A message from George Getschow:

Gay Talese, the founder of New Journalism and a member of the conference
advisory board, is returning this summer simply to hang out with us.
Gay summed up his feelings about the Mayborn Conference in a recent
letter. I'd like to share it with you.

"I came to know an extraordinary gathering of writers, journalists,
educators, students and readers devoted to the art and craft of literary
nonfiction, a subject that has been my passion and my mission for a half
century. I'm convinced that anyone who attends the Mayborn Conference
will leave with a new level of insights, storytelling skills, and
understanding of the aesthetic qualities and requirements of literary
nonfiction. The Mayborn Conference is the gathering place in the country
for serious nonfiction writers who want to deeply explore the craft and
learn how it's practiced at the highest levels. And that's why I'm
encouraging every journalist and nonfiction writer I know to attend this
summer's Mayborn Conference, and to submit their articles, essays and
book-length manuscripts to the Conference Work My wife, Nan, and I
will be there. We're looking forward to meeting you."

I'm excited about this year's conference. Our nationally known speakers
are going to explore areas of literary nonfiction that are off the radar
screen, subjects we haven't discussed in previous conferences: What does
it take to write riveting adventure narratives, science and nature
narratives, and sports narratives? They'll discuss how to go about
reconstructing scenes and dialogue through memory, how you take dry
documents--court and microfilmed records--and turn them into a
flesh-and-blood tale, and how writers should prepare themselves to take
the perilous journey into the emotional truth of our characters.

As at our previous conferences, we are providing hands-on instruction in
our workshops on how to achieve on the page what our speakers will be
addressing at the podium. To that end, we are accepting narrative
nonfiction submissions now. The deadline for submissions is June 15. We
will consider all genres of long-form nonfiction narrative: memoir,
personal essays, travel pieces, biography and profiles.

We are particularly interested in reporting-and-research-based
narratives that focus on stories involving people, places and events in
the outside world rather than the inner world of the writer. The authors
of the top 50 narrative articles or essays and the top 20 manuscript
proposals will participate in workshops all day Friday before the start
of the conference. The vast majority of our conferees, however, do not
submit writing samples to our Conference Workshops, and there is no
requirement to do so.

Our Manuscript Workshops and Article/Essay Workshops will be led by some
of the Southwest's most respected authors and editors. All workshops
will begin Friday, July 27, at 9 a.m. and end at 4 p.m. before oureception for conferees and speakers at the Austin Ranch. The workshops
will not interfere with any of the conference lectures or panels.

Conference seating is limited, so we want to give our conferees from
last year as much advance notice as possible. Conference registration is
$250 for the general public before April 15 and $275 after that date,
with discounts and scholarships for educators and students. For more
information about registration or the conference, visit or email

Educators will be pleased to know that the Mayborn Institute offers
continuing education credit through the State Board For Educator
Certification to any teacher attending the conference.

Our 2007 Mayborn Conference speakers include:

Mary Roach, an uproariously funny writer with a trenchant wit and an eye
for the oddball, is our Friday keynote. A humor columnist for Reader's
Digest and the author of several bestselling literary nonfiction books
about death and the afterlife, she will talk about the relationship
between writer and reality and how to wring larger-than-life writing out
of life-sized realities.

Joyce Carol Oates, one of America's most prolific, versatile and
distinguished writers of the last century, is our Saturday keynote. She
has written numerous novels, short story collections, several volumes of
poetry, books of plays, five books of literary criticism, and some of
the most savvy and penetrating nonfiction essays, articles and books
published in the last 25 years. The renowned novelist John Gardner
called her "one of the greatest writers of our time."

Allison Hedge Coke, an award-winning author of the acclaimed memoir
Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer: A Story of Survival is our Sunday keynote.
Coke will focus on the central quest of memoir: to spin the mirror of
reflection on one's life until it reveals what had previously evaded

William Nack, a long time writer for Sports Illustrated, is the author
of My Turf: Horses, Boxers, Blood Money and the Sporting Life, an
anthology of his magazine writing; Secretariat: The Making of a
Champion, the story of America's greatest thoroughbred; and this year's
Ruffian: A Racetrack Romance, the story of the life and death of the
swiftest female racehorse of modern times. Nack will explore his
research and reporting practices for writing sports narratives, which
entails total immersion in a scene--into the center of the action--in
order to write about it authoritatively.

Christine Wicker, a former religion reporter for The Dallas Morning
News, is the author of the highly acclaimed national bestseller Lily
Dale: The Town That Talks to the Dead and Not In Kansas Anymore: Dark
Arts, Sex Spells, Money Magic, and Other Things Your Neighbors Aren't
Telling You. Wicker will talk about lessons she's learned in exploring
issues of faith and belief. "It's not enough to make it interesting,"
she says. "You have to explore the deepest truths you know."

Kevin Fedarko, one of Outside Magazine's Literary All-Stars, has scaled
mountains and braved war zones to write about his adventures across the
world. Drawing examples from a litany of wretched assignments that have
taken Fedarko to northeastern Kashmir, the crest of Caucasus, the Horn
of Africa, the Canadian Arctic, the deserts of northern Mexico and the
Grand Canyon, Fedarko will share some of the painful epiphanies he
underwent--and continunarrative he writes for Outside Magazine.

Denise Watson Batts, a member of a four-person narrative team at The
Virginian-Pilot, will discuss how she discovers fascinating narratives
in everyday life and everyday people. Her narratives are drawn from an
afternoon spent at a Girl Scout summer camp; exploring a high-school
drama team's quest to stage one of Broadway's toughest shows; and
hanging out with a man who still repairs typewriters in the computer
age. She believes the best stories aren't found on the main river of
life but on its banks.

Burkhard Bilger, a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of Noodling
for Flatheads: Moonshine, Monster Catfish, and Other Southern Comforts,
will explain how writers--using imaginative research methods--can
transform pedantic and mundane scientific matters into riveting

Steven Harrigan, a contributing editor at Texas Monthly and a
screenwriter who has written many movies for television, will team up
with James Hornfischer, the author of two military narratives, to
discuss one challenge anyone who writes about war faces at one time or
another: how to distill clarity from chaos.

Tony Freemantle, writing coach and an editor-at-large for the Houston
Chronicle, will explain why the age of the Internet will usher in the
age of the literary journalist. Freed from the need to "feed the beast,"
Freemantle contends even breaking news stories will offer the
opportunity for writers to stretch themselves and develop "hard news

Cecilia Ballí, a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly who is currently
working on a nonfiction book about the murder of young women in Ciudad
Juárez, Mexico, will examine a subject that's seldom talked about among
nonfiction writers: taking the perilous journey into the emotional truth
of our characters.

For our conferees who want to discuss the merits of their specific ideas
for literary nonfiction books, we are offering private consultation
sessions with our literary agents called "Close Encounters of the
Literary Kind." The cost of these 15-minute, one-on-one sessions is $50.
We recommend you sign up early for these sessions because we expect them
to sell out quickly. Call Nancy Eanes, our conference coordinator, at
940-565-4778 if you're interested.

I'm looking forward to seeing new and former members of our literary
tribe at this summer's conference.

Many thanks,


April 21, 2007 8:55 AM |



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